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Reviewed by Carmen Tenorio for Readers' Favorite
"Are You a N****r or a Doctor?" is about the first 39 years of the life of a retired anesthesiologist, Dr. Otto Stallworth. He was born, raised, and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, with his stories spanning at least three decades. His tale started during the notorious Jim Crow era from the 1940s and up to the 1970s as he navigated and dealt with society and the world as an audacious young professional, with ethnicity an unavoidable aspect that inevitably left an impact on so many aspects of his life. From wondering how water from a Whites Only drinking fountain tasted like when he was a child, to crossing the state line to attend Howard University, to being a successful manager of a history-making and Grammy award-winning group, up until his work as Chief of Anesthesia in Hawthorne, California, the memoir is a series of memorable and poignant personal stories. Readers are introduced to his reminiscences of his family, childhood, friendships, relationships, education, medical career, travels, and businesses, especially seen from the standpoint of someone whose horizons have widened as he left his birthplace seeking better opportunities and a good life as a black American from the south.
Dr. Otto Stallworth's life shows how the personal is political, where one's own story is a part of history because this shaped his life experiences and opportunities as a child and adult both before and after the total abolition of segregation in 1964. Desegregation did improve his chances when he graduated from college and med school, when opportunities for further training, sound business endeavors, and good medical practice have since been more available and were added to his biodata. However, progress in gaining acceptance was slow. This memoir affords us the opportunity to view the world from the different and less common perspective of a black person as opposed to a mainstream perspective that uses the lens of somebody who's fair-skinned or white.
The author's clear and eloquent writing also makes it quite a worthy read that's insightful, even entertaining, and occasionally humorous. This book helps us broaden our understanding of possibilities and achieving the possible, and it even shows us his way of getting out of a rut when our very human side starts to give up as we cope with life's adversities. Especially recommended for those who enjoy well-written memoirs of people who have survived, succeeded, and beaten the odds against growing up in a society that can sometimes be too abrasive and judgmental because of skin color.